Performing Arts: Dance
November 16, 2022
The Paul Taylor Dance Company has staked out a new and interesting strategic position: presenting an authoritative and moving rendition of the cult classic The Green Table, the infamous ballet by Kurt Jooss, perhaps the best since the Joffrey Ballet left town more than twenty-five years ago. Although PTDC is branding itself as “A New Era,” this work from 1932 has put them on the map as artists capable of dance historical stewardship outside of the Taylor zone. Other companies have given performances in New York since the Joffrey departure, but to my eye, the intensity and gravitas of the Taylor performances captured the essence of the work.

I speak from having the experience of dancing The Green Table many times as a member of the Joffrey, and also having been part of the documentary film celebrating the centennial of Jooss’ birth in 2000, when Ana Markard, Jooss’ daughter, worked with us to create the homage that aired on PBS in Chicago. Dancing this work was a transformative experience.

The Green Table is a special gift for the audience, but even more so for the dancers: the rehearsal process makes one feel part of a timeless artistic endeavor: art as protest. I recall every day for six weeks, when we spent hours upon hours deconstructing the minutiae of how the hand curved inward and then out in the table scene, the stiffness of the spine, the oiliness of our expressions, contractions, the dynamics, the energy, and how the message radiated, even behind masks. The long discussion on expressing the differences between Death taking a soldier, a young girl, or a dying woman; the feeling of despair, and how the movement itself required no extra histrionics. And we became part of a long tradition, something much bigger than ourselves, or our dance season.

The Taylor company worked with Jeanette Vondersaar, the inimitable and exacting assistant to Markard who has spearheaded revivals since Markard’s passing. Jeanette performed the role of the Partisan herself, and worked side by side with Ana for years. She has brought this production to life, I think, with a welcome intensity, clarity, and heightened drama. The Taylor dancers embodied the physicality and weight of every detail as I remember it, with love and commitment. To me, it was like watching myself and my colleagues transported to the present, behind those costumes, in the timelessness of the movement itself.

A special mention must go to Shawn Lesniak as Death. He truly understood the carriage, the weight, the musicality of the character. He mastered the slicing motion, the turn of the head, the intense yet empty glare, the snarl or the indifference that might emanate from that towering figure at any given moment. But the entire cast deserves praise. And a special shout-out to Kevin Dreyer, who also lit the Joffrey production years ago, and of course to Artistic Director Michael Novak, for committing to bring this timeless and unfortunately always relevant moment in history back onto the stage once again.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy

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